In a report on ‘The Revision of the EU Fisheries Control System’ the EU Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA) stated that the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) were to ensure that fishing and aquaculture activities are environmentally sustainable and consistently managed to achieve long-term economic, social and employment benefits:
“However, its success depends very much on the implementation of an effective control and enforcement system.
“Regulation (EC) No 1224/2009, often called the ‘Fisheries Control Regulation’, which was created and came into force in 2010 to provide a system of monitoring, inspection and enforcement for fishing operations in EU waters and activities of the EU fleet globally.
“However, there are significant weaknesses in the implementation of this system, and since its publication in 2020 new technologies have become available to assist with control. These loopholes were identified in the current legislation as well as its implementation by the European Court of Auditors and they have called for more efforts in EU fisheries control.
European Commission proposal
On 30 May 2018, the European Commission published a proposal for the revision of the fisheries control system to address these loopholes.
This proposal introduced requirements for more complete fisheries data collection and publication, including introduction of an electronic tracking system for all EU fishing vessels, fully digitized reporting by all vessels of their catches with electronic logbooks and landing declarations, and rules for recreational fishers to declare all catches.
It also proposed improvements to seafood traceability through digitized identification and of all fishery and aquaculture products along the supply chain, whether from EU fisheries or imported.
And it suggested a revision to enforcement rules as well as proposing a strengthened point system and also revises the mandate of the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA), to fully align its objectives with the CFP and to upgrade its inspection powers, and Regulation 1005/2008 on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, to introduce a digital database for catch certifications for imported fishery products.
Meanwhile back in Brussels, it would seem that every step taken by the EU Commission and the EFCA with regards to fisheries control is being closely monitored by the EU Fisheries Control Coalition – a body with an official-sounding name that would lead one to believe that they are part of the EU Commission themselves but, in reality, are a group of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with agendas of their own.
This group consists of: Client Earth, the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), FishSec, The Nature Conservancy, Oceana, Our Fish, Scianena, Seas at Risk, and WWF.
The response by this body of NGOs to the 2018 report was to advise the EU Council how they could better work towards fully documented and transparent EU fisheries:
1. Exemptions in the Fisheries Control Regulation have allowed 89% of the EU fishing fleet to fish without location trackers, devices that are currently only required for vessels over 15 metres in length. Fishing vessels under 10m, of which there are more than 59,000 in the EU, also do not have to declare their catches. The Council should support the proposal to require vessel tracking and catch reporting for all EU vessels;
2. A significant proportion of fisheries data lacks sufficient detail and is vulnerable to mis-recording. Without reliable and timely catch data, fisheries managers remain without a true picture of what is being removed from the sea, making it difficult to ensure the effective and sustainable management of EU stocks. The Council should ensure that Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM) of vessels, including on-board CCTV, is required on all large-scale vessels (over 12m) and on small-scale vessels that are at high risk of non-compliance with the rules of the CFP;
3. Making seafood products traceable from point-of-catch to point-of-sale is necessary to combat illegal fishing and achieve healthy fisheries. As the world’s leading seafood market, importing over 60% of its seafood, the EU has a responsibility to strengthen its ability to verify that the sources of seafood available in its market are both legal and sustainable. We ask the Council to support improved and digitised seafood traceability for all products, rather than the current paper-based systems. EU decision-makers (including Member States) do not have the information necessary to assess whether the Control Regulation is effectively implemented in all EU Member States;
4. The lack of transparency creates a culture of mistrust and the potential for misinformation and mismanagement. We urge Member States to consider publishing, on an annual basis, the aggregated data on monitoring, control and enforcement activities.
The immediate question that arises in relation to this 30th May 2018 EU Report is that is this the same report that includes contributions from the SFPA in Ireland upon which the Irish industry are currently facing prosecution for but cannot get to see the report?
And if this is so, how is it that a coalition of NGOs can get to see it and the fishing industry in Ireland cannot be shown?
Even if this is a different fisheries control report to the infamous EU 2018 Audit Report, then where is the industry consultation or the EU’s offer to the Irish fishing industry to respond to?
To be clear, the Irish fishing industry is not against the work that NGOs are doing on the contrary, the NGOs’ goals of ensuring sustainable fishing practices that protect the marine ecosystem are much aligned with those of our industry.
However, the concern is that if the policy agenda is not balanced with the knowledge, experience and expertise of those who understand the sea best it can lead to unnecessary and unreasonable restrictions that are ineffective at serving the purpose intended. Regrettably this has happened all too often and now is time for the Eurocrats and NGOs to begin to recognise that fishermen are part of the solution rather than part of the problem…